Martini Consulting, LLC Homepage

Value-Creators Creating Value: A Friendly Introduction to SEO

March 18th, 2014 / - filed under Digital Marketing

In the world of internet marketing, one term in particular has gotten a lot of red-carpet-attention recently.  Law firms that have contemplated website redesigns have undoubtedly heard their marketing or web team toss it around in an all-important way and without explanation.  (We know, because we’re totally guilty of doing just that.)

SEO, or search engine optimization, appears to be the 21st-century marketer’s Holy Grail.  But, as many-a-partner sitting in a marketing meeting has wondered: What the heck is SEO?  And: Is it all that it’s cracked up to be?

First, a definition: search engine optimization is the process of increasing a website’s visibility, or ranking, in a search engine’s organic (unpaid) search results.  The goal: have your website consistently be the top search result for your target audience in order to increase the number of visitors to your website.  In simple terms: get your content to the top of the whitespace.

We’ll keep the technical detail to a minimum but, of course, SEO is not a one-size-fits-all process.  Marketers must take into account what keywords their target audiences actually use and how competitive those keywords are (good luck ranking highly for lawyer, litigation, or pizza).  More generally, they must understand how search engines read, sort and classify content as relevant and valuable to search engine users.  After all, Google became Google because when users searched for Obscure Topic, they received links to websites with relevant and valuable content about Obscure Topic.

Contrary to what SEO-mania might suggest, SEO is not magical business-generation fairy dust.  Rather, it’s an ongoing process and, broadly speaking, websites are search-engine-optimized in two ways: 1) by editing web content and code so that it is more easily indexed by search engines; and 2) by increasing the number of links to website content.

What does this mean in practical terms?  For one, smart web copy and clean design are hugely important.  Depending on what the traffic data tells you, rewriting, redesigning or recoding a particular part of your site may very well be what you need to move the metrics in the right direction.  Work with your marketing team to identify the keywords that your target audience actually uses and incorporate them into your web copy.  Yes, these keywords may be terms that are less frequently entered into search engines, but that also means there is less competition to rank highly for them.  If your website content matches those terms, then your target audience is more likely to find its way to your site.  And when those users spend an extra minute or two poking around your site because the content is interesting, the copy is smart and the site design is easy to navigate, search engines take note, hey, that website seemed to be just what that user was looking for.

But this is only half of the puzzle.  SEO also comes from consistent marketing—from producing quality content and news that generate organic buzz.  Had an article published in the New York Times?  Fantastic.  When links to your firm’s site, that’s a value endorsement, and search engines take note.  But don’t let your article be a one-hit wonder.  Turn it into a blog post.  Write a news blurb for your firm’s homepage.  When multiple webpages link to your article or website, that’s a value endorsement, too.  Don’t forget to share your article on LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is a key Google influencer—the more you post there, the more prominent you’ll be in Google’s search results.

Okay, but wait.  Law firm websites aren’t trying to make sales—to sell airline tickets, Ferraris or shoes (with free shipping!).  So what’s the big to-do about web traffic?

Indeed, law firms are in the business of knowledge, ideas and relationships, which is why high traffic isn’t—and shouldn’t be—an end goal in and of itself.  Rather, as we explained in our recent blog post, traffic to your firm’s website is important for the way it can inform your tactical marketing investments and help you assess the value of your marketing and PR efforts, and vice versa: if you understand how these activities make a difference, you can create a more valuable, relevant and search-engine-optimized website.

So, what metrics should law firms chase?  That depends on your firm’s business development strategy.  Are you tapping a new market and trying to gain name recognition?  Then aim to increase the percentage of new visitors (visitors who have never visited your site before).  Did your firm start a blog for a key practice?  Try to increase the number of unique visitors (the number of distinct individuals visiting a webpage in a given period of time) from post to post.  Did you recently develop a new webpage with information and resources related to a specific practice area?  Gauge the value of that content by measuring users’ average visit duration (how much time users spend engaging with that part of your site).  Set thoughtful targets.  Measure your success.

The bottom-line is this: Lawyers are value-creators.  We know that.  It’s paramount that clients and potential clients know that too. SEO is not the be-all end-all of marketing.  But the process of search-engine-optimizing—actively and thoughtfully creating and syndicating valuable content—certainly can solidify retention and help your target clients find you.